Public Transportation in Cities

Europe is amazing for so many reasons, not least of which is the intricate weave of public transportation. Headquartered in Munich for 6 months we had at our fingertips the underground (U-Bahn), the tram lines, the above ground (S-Bahn), buses, rental bikes, car shares, and taxis… although I don’t know how the taxis made any money with so many other options available.

Every city has its own way of running the public transportation, so make sure you do a google search for “public transportation in …”. Most of the cities are honor-bound. Meaning you purchase a ticket and don’t need to “punch in” when using the network, they just trust that you have bought the ticket. We used the network daily in Munich and were only asked to produce a ticket once in 6 months. Incredible.

Some cities you are required to check in and out – like Paris. In Amsterdam they’d prefer it if you checked in and out but if you are a tourist, chances are you have a card that times out after 24 hours anyway. The system may vary from subway to bus as well. In some cities it is not possible to buy tickets for the bus on the bus, you must prebuy your ticket from a machine, like in London. If you are going to buy a ticket from the driver please bring exact change. Nobody likes to be held up while the driver has to fumble around for change… and the driver may just refuse to give you change, as was our experience in Bordeaux. Although some cities, like Copenhagen, have automated change machines on the bus.

There are also tickets that combine attractions and public transportation. Which is a good option if you are only in the city for a few days and plan on going to those things anyway. Check into what the attractions actually are before buying the ticket, though, because sometimes they aren’t going to be stuff you’d want to see. We did this once in Amsterdam and it was perfect. Amsterdam is so expensive as a tourist, but the Iamsterdam card was great.

I thought about doing something similar in Paris, but after going through the list of attractions I decided against it. London has a tourist ticket for the underground – but it is very expensive and doesn’t pay out if you plan on walking around. Paris has one as well and it is MUCH cheaper to just buy individual tickets rather than a pass – after all, part of the charm of Paris is just walking around.

My advice boils down to this: do your research – every city is different. And buy tickets, don’t think that you can get away with cheating the system; the fines are hefty and the police are scary, and the money they make goes in to keeping the public transportation so efficient and wonderful.

Amsterdam

  • Iamsterdam card for either 24 hours or 72 hours; includes all public transportation for that time frame as well as entrance to certain attractions, discounts, and freebies – buy it at the airport information desk
  • Time sensitive tickets for 1 hour, 24 hours and daily up to 7 days
  • Required to buy a supplement for bikes
  • All tickets bought from GVB machines are valid on metro, bus and tram
  • Transportation is fairly cheap (€7.50 for a 24 hour card or 2.80 for an hour card)
  • It is cheaper to buy from machines than on the bus/tram so try to find a metro station nearby
  • To “check in” simply smack your card against the yellow or pink circle at the entrance to the metro station, or near the door or the tram/bus. You’ll hear a friendly “beep” and see a green light
  • There are cashiers seated in booths in the middle of all the trams if your ticket has expired

Barcelona

  • Barcelona has a great website on all this info: www.tmb.cat/en/bitllets-i-tarifes
  • We did a a lot of walking but did take the bus quite a bit
  • There is a 2, 3, 4, or 5 day transport card for €14 – €30 valid for any means of transit
  • A single ticket is €2.15 and is valid on only one method of transportation each

Berlin

  • One way tickets available for 2 hours of travel in any one direction, for any distance
  • Short distance tickets available if you only plan on going 3 or less stops (cheapest ticket)
  • Day tickets available for a single person or a group of up to 5 people – this is extremely economical if you are a group of people traveling together (the price of the group ticket is the same as 2 individual day tickets, so as soon as you are 3 people in your group, you have big savings)
  • Berlin has double decker buses which are a great way to see the city. I’d recommend getting a day ticket and abuse the heck out of it by riding around for an hour or so
  • Berlin is huge! We used the group day ticket (€16.20/day) for the both of us, and used the public transportation several times each day
  • Ticket use is on the honor system and there is no “check in” procedure – but please buy a ticket!

Budapest

  • Tickets are valid on all forms of public transportation – including the funicular
  • Tickets can be purchased from ticket windows in metro stations, ticketing machines, or at newsstands
  • The Budapest Card is available for 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours and includes all public transportation for that time frame as well as entrance to certain attractions, discounts, and freebies
  • There are many tickets available for almost any time frame but we did most of our exploring by foot, so we only bought a book of 10 tickets and used 1 each per ride, validating each individual card at a time
  • Budapest is not overly English-friendly, so you may want to write down what you need if you plan on visiting a ticket window

Copenhagen

  • The Copenhagen Card is the most comprehensive tourist card in Europe, you should absolutely look into it before buying any sort of transportation ticket
  • We walked in Copenhagen more than any other city, but we did pop on the bus when it started raining
  • A single trip ticket isn’t cheap (3.20) and is good for up to an hour for 2-3 zones, you can get a ticket for more zones, but chances are you won’t need it unless you are staying out in the suburbs
  • Try to buy your tickets ahead of time as the bus driver won’t want to give you change – there’s an app for it!
  • There is a 24 hour card for approximately €10 and one for 72 hours… a bit pricey and probably unnecessary as the center of Copenhagen isn’t all that big, though if you plan on taking the bus/tram more than 3 times in 24 hours it is worth the price
  • Perhaps the best option, depending on how long you stay, is the book of 10 tickets for approx. €20. This lowers the price of each individual ticket to €2

London

  • London may have the most confusing way of explaining their ticketing system – which is actually quite simple, I’ll try to help break it down
  • Buy an Oyster Card. There, that was easy : )
  • When you first arrive, go up to the ticket window (there are payment limits on the machines that will drive you nuts)
  • Ask for an Oyster Card and smile – because they speak English!
  • You can tell them to start you off with any balance you want (ie. £10, £15)
  • You can load as much cash on it as you think you will need at the windows or using the machines. NOTE: there is a daily maximum of £8.40 for downtown and £10.60 if you are staying a bit outside so you’ll never pay more than that per day no matter how many times you use the card
  • Hold the card up to the validator and wait for the green light – remember to check out!
  • To load more cash on your card simply hold it up to the ticketing machine and insert cash or your credit card
  • At the end of your stay go up to a ticket window and return your Oyster Card, they will refund whatever money is left and you are good to go!

Munich

  • Munich has yet to move over to the chip system and still requires a literal “punch in”
  • After living there for 6 months we found that the best option for us was to use a stripe ticket and validate each stripe as we went along
  • However, this may not be the option if you are visiting as a tourist
  • Munich does have day tickets, partner tickets, and the best of all partner multi-day tickets
  • The partner multi-day tickets are valid for up to 5 people for 3 days for €25.90, which may seem like a big investment but is worth it if you plan on using the metro/bus/tram
  • Children are counted as half people on the partner cards so you can have 10 kids, under the age of 15, on one partner card (10 kids = 5 people)
  • Munich is lovely to walk around, and you may only want to buy a single ticket. If you plan on using the metro more than 10 times get the stripe ticket, it’s like buying a bundle of tickets at a discount.
  • 1 stripe = 1 person going up to 2 stops, 2 stripes = 1 person going any number of stops
  • Make sure to validate at the punch machines, either in the metro stations or on the trams – the day tickets need to only be validated the first time
  • Check out their app!

Paris

  • Paris, lovely Paris… For this beautiful city I would recommend buying a pack of individual tickets.
  • I did EXTENSIVE research into which tickets would be the best for us and unless you plan on missing the best part of the city (walking around) I’d say go for the single tickets
  • Validate each, and keep them as you may need that ticket to get back out (Paris does not use the honor system)
  • Tickets are €1.70 per ticket or 13.70 for a bundle of 10 – big savings!
  • The 3 of us were there for 5 days and used almost 40 tickets and that was cheaper than getting the city pass card
  • So if you plan on maybe taking transportation 2-3 times per day it is cheaper to do the bundles
  • If you think you’ll be hopping on the metro often, and it would have to be a lot to be worth it, I’d recommend the day cards, €12 for 1 day or €38 for 5 days

Prague

  •  Prague is so cheap! Save yourself the hassle of individual tickets and “splurge” on €11 3-day pass.
  • If you feel like saving money try the 30 minute tickets for €.87
  • Single tickets can be used on any form of public transportation, even multiple forms of transportation (ie. tram and bus)  in those 30 minutes
  • 90 minute tickets are also available
  • Pick up the 1 or 3 day passes from tourist information offices or at ticketing machines – machines are coin only

Rome

  • Rome has very affordable public transportation
  • A 24 hour pass for all forms of transportation is only €4, 3 days is only €11 and 7 days is €16
  • All the day passes need only be validated once
  • If €4 is too much for you, there are 75 minute tickets available for €1
  • Something to consider for history nerds: there are loads of archeological sights along the Appian way and a special bus makes stops at each of them for €14 you can have a full day ticket to explore the catacombs and such – the bus has commentary as well. We didn’t do this but I sorely wish we had!

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